Diwali Holiday In New York Schools: Meet Jenifer Rajkumar, Who Made It Possible

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar had moved the legislation to declare Diwali a public school holiday in New York.

South Asians
4 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Diwali will be a public school holiday in New York City from 2023 onwards, authorities said on Thursday, 20 October.

The decision was announced by New York Mayor Eric Adams, along with Indian-origin state Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and Department of Education chancellor David Banks.

This comes after a legislation to recognise the Hindu festival was moved in the NY State Assembly this week by Rajkumar, whose parents hail from India and settled in the United States (US) before her birth.

"The time has come to recognise over 200,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain faiths who celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights," she said during a press conference on Thursday, adding that the festival was celebrated by a "growing number of New Yorkers."

As per New York State education laws, 180 days of school education are required in a year. However, in order to meet this criteria, no more school holidays could be declared.


Hence, Rajkumar brought forth the legislation for Diwali to replace 'Anniversary Day' as a public school holiday, calling the latter "an obscure and antiquated day" compared to the festival of lights.

Mayor Adams also called the the decision a "long overdue acknowledgment of Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist communities," adding that the state had already recognised Eid and Lunar New Years as public holidays.

"As we deal with so much darkness that is around us, we fail to realise the overwhelming amount of light that is around us. And when we take this period to acknowledge Diwali, we are acknowledging the light that is within us, the light that clearly can push away darkness and that is why this is so significant."
Eric Adams

Who Is Jenifer Rajkumar? 

A lawyer, professor, and politician, 40-year-old Rajkumar is the first Indian American and South Asian woman to be elected to a state office in New York.

The daughter of Indian immigrants who settled in Queens, Rajkumar was born and raised in New York. According to the politician's website, her parents had arrived in the US with only $300 and a suitcase in their possession.
Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar had moved the legislation to declare Diwali a public school holiday in New York.

Jenifer Rajkumar. 

(Photo: Facebook/Jenifer Rajkumar) 


The Assemblywoman graduated from the Stanford Law School and the University of Pennsylvania, after which she served as the director of immigration affairs for the New York State. In that role, she led the initiative to build a $31 million project to provide assistance to immigrants in obtaining legal services.

Currently, she represents the 38th district of Queens in the NY State Assembly as a Democrat.

In her capacity as an Assemblywoman, she has worked towards the upliftment of disenfranchised and vulnerable groups of people at the local and national levels.

Among her major achievements is the fact that she passed a legislative package providing full protections of the New York State Human Rights Law to domestic workers.

In her bid to uphold public safety, she passed a bill to expand compensation for victims of crime as well.

Rajkumar's work experience also includes her stint as a civil rights lawyer at a national law firm, during which time she litigated class action suits on behalf of workers, tenants, and women.

She was a part of a legal team for the Velez v Novartis case, which has been ranked by the United Nations as among the top 10 cases in the world advancing women's rights.

At the local level, Rajkumar taught as a professor at the City University of New York's Lehman College.

The politician is also the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, such as:

  • Alice Paul Award for exemplary service to women and families

  • New York County Democratic Party’s Bella Abzug Award

  • WIN Young Women of Achievement Award

  • New York Metro Rising Star

  • '40 Under 40' Rising Star by City & State.

Growing Demands to Recognise Diwali

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Indians living in New York had been urging authorities to declare Diwali as a school holiday.

"For over two decades South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in New York have been fighting for the Diwali school holiday. I stand on the shoulders of those advocates. And now we are finally going to realise that goal," Rajkumar had said during the press conference.

She further said that Hindu culture had inspired the American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr, adding that the "sky is the limit for our community".

Consul General of India in New York Randhir Jaiswal hailed the move, saying that it had been pending for a long time.

"The recognition gives a deeper meaning to diversity and pluralism in New York City, while allowing people from all walks of life to experience, celebrate and enjoy Indian ethos and heritage," he was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

(With inputs from PTI.)

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Topics:  New York   Indian Origin   Diwali 

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